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Harriet Tubman Honored on Commemorative Coins

Published January 5, 2024 | 2 min read

By Louis Golino

Almost a decade after famous abolitionist Harriet Tubman was scheduled to appear on the $20 bill, that goal is still six years away under current plans. But on January 4, Tubman joined the small pantheon of important American women who have been honored with a legal-tender commemorative. At 12 p.m. (EST), the U.S. Mint began accepting orders for the Harriet Tubman bicentennial commemorative coins. It includes a clad half dollar, a silver dollar, and a $5 gold coin, each issued in both uncirculated and proof finishes. There is also a three-coin proof set that includes a proof example of each piece, with a product limit of 5,000.

Historic Occasion

Under Public Law 117-163, up to 400,000 silver dollars; 50,000 $5 gold coins; and 750,000 half dollars are authorized. The new program, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of Tubman’s birth, is significant for several reasons. It comes after a one-year hiatus in 2023 when for the first time since the modern commemorative coin program was launched in 1982, no such coins were issued because none had been authorized by Congress.

The coins also mark only the third time in U.S. Mint history that a historic black woman has appeared on a legal tender coin, the first two being the Maya Angelou (2022) and Bessie Coleman (2023) quarters. In 2017 gold coins were issued that featured an allegorical black Lady Liberty.

Although most representations of Tubman depict her in her later years (such as this well-known 1895 photograph), the new commemorative shows the abolitionist as a headstrong young woman. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Harriet Tubman

But who was Harriet Tubman? And why is she such a significant historical figure? In a nutshell, Tubman was born in 1822 into slavery in Maryland. She escaped to freedom in Philadelphia and dedicated her life to pursuing freedom in all forms. 

She is best known for her role as a conductor in the famous Underground Railroad, which freed over 300 slaves during and after the Civil War. For this, she became known as “the Moses of her people.”

In 1862 Tubman joined the Union Army, first as a nurse and later as an Army scout and the first Union spy. She provided the Union with critical intelligence on Confederate troops.  

During the Civil War, Tubman also became the first woman to lead an armed expedition. After the conflict, she became a prominent suffragist, working with women such as fellow suffragist Susan B. Anthony. She provided care and facilities for newly freed people.

A statue of Tubman was dedicated in 2022 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as a tribute to her pioneering role in the field of intelligence. This rare honor underscores just how important she is to the American story.  

Successful Launch

A ceremonial first strike ceremony was held at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia on November 28 for the Tubman bicentennial silver dollar. Participants could strike their own coins for purchase after the public release on January 4.

On January 3, the U.S. Mint announced that 250 Tubman proof sets will include certificates of authenticity that Mint Director Ventris Gibson has hand-signed to mark this momentous release. Similar to the 2023 Peace dollar release, the coining facility will send these sets out at random.

On January 7, the U.S. Mint reported its sales for the first three days as follows:

  • Proof gold $5: 869 sold
  • Uncirculated gold $5: 631
  • Proof silver dollar: 8,558
  • Uncirculated silver dollar: 3,666
  • Proof half dollar: 6,657
  • Uncirculated half dollar: 3,883
  • Three-coin proof set: 2,298